"We need jihad against violence"

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Sara Khan does not want to leave the ideological battle of modern Islam to the extremists.

Sara Khan, 32, was born and raised in the UK to Pakistani parents. She studied pharmacy in Manchester and lives with her family in London. Since 2009, Khan runs "Inspire", a human rights group for Muslim women in London.

Profil: Does the case of Malala make people more afraid of Islamist extremism or does it created more resistance to it?

Khan: The attempted murder was such a scandal, it has triggered a huge response worldwide. And it has become clear that many Muslim women have to fight for their equal rights. Whether in Pakistan or here in Britain. I'm glad I live here in the UK, where there is law and order. But even here, there is this extremism within Islam. And it is scary to see it grows.

Profil: But why does extreme Islamism rises in the UK? In Pakistan, one could argue that a traditionally conservative society was shattered by war and corruption, and now turns to an extreme interpretation of Islam. But on what feed Muslim fanatics in the West?

Khan: The extremists here and there share one ideology - the role of women is singled out as an example for "true" Islam. The less women have to say in society and be seen, the more "real" Islam is. This is of course nonsense. In 1400 years, Islam has produced many learned women, architects and poets. But this interpretation follows the extremists among us and it makes sense from their perspective as well: democracy can only succeed if all people have equal rights. Women who claim a share of the power are therefore especially dangerous to the Islamists. When they go to school and are trained and then work and will have independent salaries, then they will want to share power. Therefore, the Taliban were terrified of Malala. And that's why they wanted to silence her.

Profil: Your organization "Inspire" calls for "Jihad against Violence" - that sounds like a paradox in Western ears.

Khan: The term "jihad" was taken from us since 9/11. "Jihad" means "struggle," but fighting for something good, fight for justice, fight for truth. Jihad does not mean "war against the infidels." We have therefore started a campaign to reclaim the term. We moderate Muslims can not leave the debate about Islam to the extremists.

Profil: After the attacks of 9/11 the tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims were probably the biggest. Do you have the impression that there is now a greater understanding of Islam in the West?

Khan: Islam has been demonized by the media, which has not helped. Here in England there are some newspapers who have behaved quite irresponsibly. The vast majority of British Muslims - we have 2.7 million of a total population of 40 million - are moderate people, dealing primarily about their children coming to school on time. The small minority of religious Muslim extremists are standing opposite radical organizations such as the "English Defence League". We're also not claiming that all white Englishman are responsible this extreme right-wing minority. Just as one should not accuse the majority of Muslims to have something to do with the Islamic fascists.

Profil: Are you not afraid of extremists?

Khan: No. We have to take up this battle, because we have no choice. Saudi Arabia is pumping millions of dollars in countries like Pakistan and the United Kingdom in order to influence the Muslim ideology. We can not stand in silence. It's a fight and we want to win it. I refuse to let a bunch of nutters silence me.

Profil: You were once called the "Muslim Sufragettes”, does this honor you?

Khan: We are the new Muslim suffragettes. Or maybe post-suffragettes. Not only here in the West. The Arab Spring shows how important it is that women fight for their rights. And with what power and strength they continue to do so. In Saudi Arabia they sit in the car behind the wheel, even though they know that they will be arrested for it. It is vitally important that women break out of the narrative of the ultraconservative Islamists. Malala did this, too. Although she was shot directly in the head, she escaped death. For me, this is proof that God is with her.

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© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz